Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Cellulitis

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
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What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection in your skin.

  • Cellulitis is a common skin infection that can spread quickly and be very serious

  • The infected area hurts and is red, warm, and swollen

  • Cellulitis is most common on your legs but can happen anywhere

  • If the infection reaches your bloodstream, it can be life threatening

What causes cellulitis?

Cellulitis is caused by germs (bacteria) that get into your skin. Bacteria are most likely to enter your skin where you have a cut, insect bite, scrape, burn, puncture wound, or patches of dry skin.

Cellulitis is often caused by Staphylococcus bacteria (staph infection). The type of staphylococcus known as MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics. A MRSA infection can be hard to treat.

People have a higher risk of getting cellulitis if they:

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

Cellulitis usually starts as a small, red patch that's slightly sore. The infected area can get larger quickly. In a couple of days, it could spread from a spot the size of a quarter on your calf to cover your entire lower leg.

How can doctors tell if I have cellulitis?

How do doctors treat cellulitis?

  • Antibiotics to kill the bacteria

  • Usually you take the antibiotics by mouth but sometimes, when there is serious infection, by vein (IV) in the hospital

  • If you have cellulitis in your leg, doctors will ask you to elevate it

How can I prevent cellulitis?

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